The Babe Magnet
by D.C. Logan
Heero spent the rest of that evening rearranging his condo, which meant moving the sofa and the end tables around until he could fit the monstrosity of the new crate in the corner of the living room. He was glad that Duo had taken a few seconds at the store to demonstrate how the crate folded and unfolded. Because, even with that simple and straightforward demonstration, and even with his engineering degree, and even once he'd broken down and actually read the directions that had come with the crate, in English, and then in Japanese, not that it had made much difference; it had taken a surprising amount of time for his brain to put together how the contraption operated. It was just as well he was doing it now. His dog would probably laugh to see him attempting it.
After reconfiguring the wiring for his reading lamp, which had moved because the end table had moved, which had moved because the sofa had moved, he settled in with a beer and the two books that Duo insisted were standard reading for new dog owners. It all seemed pretty basic to him though. Owning a dog was just like programming a computer: garbage in; garbage out. You fed your dog, you cleaned up after your dog. You trained your dog with the application of software or routines. You maintained it, kept it clean and operating at peak efficiency, and in return, it rewarded you with companionship and predictable behavior patterns. Though he'd never attempted it before, dog ownership seemed to be a ridiculously simple process.
That happy thought lasted only until Trowa brought Little Girl to him that night after his rounds finished at the clinic. He handed Heero all of her medications and the dosage schedule, less than helpfully scrawled out in his completely unreadable script. He handed over a small bag of dog food, already portioned out for her evening and breakfast meals. He explained how to care for the brand-new, shockingly bright, neon-pink cast on her hind leg, and what to watch for as far as infection around her sutures and staples. He handed Heero her leash, while she stood and patiently leaned against Heero's legs. And then, least helpfully of all, he wished Heero good luck with his new dog.
Heero held out until six A.M. before calling Trowa back, which, personally speaking, he considered one hell of an accomplishment. "Trowa? If you value what's left of your life and you don't want your sister to find out about what you keep in your closet, you'll get over here and pick up this demonspawn thing right now." Heero figured that if there was a snarling quality to his voice, it couldn't be helped at the moment.
"What? What is it? I can't possibly come get her now. I have to be in surgery in five minutes. We've got two HBC, a cat that ate most of a cassette tape, and a GSD with bloat." Trowa hoped that sounded sufficiently urgent. The cat was true enough, the hit-by-car dog and cat and the German shepherd with bloat had happened as well, but they'd all been treated and were stable at the moment.
Heero didn't seem to be buying his story though.
"She ate my laptop."
"She what?" Trowa stopped his pacing and braced his hand on the wall next to the phone for additional support should it be required. Okay, for a technogeek like Heero, that was tantamount to the coming of the apocalypse. "Can you repeat that? A little slower please?"
"She. Ate. My. Computer."
The sentence sounded frightenly similar the second time around. "How did she get access to your computer and why did you let her eat it?" Trowa waved off Zechs's slightly panicked look and leaned back against the wall at the clinic, expecting to be amused at his friend's expense for once.
"It was the tea's fault." Heero sounded rational, calm even.
"The tea... right... sure... You want to explain that to me in a little more detail, Heero?"
"I was working on that interface for the Motorola project, and she was on her blanket on the floor. The book said that she should have her own bed to lie on, and that I needed to decide from the start whether or not I wanted to allow her on the furniture." Heero stated this with due matter-of-factness, and with the serious tone of voice that said that he knew he was in the right.
Trowa nodded silently and stifled a laugh. This was one time when Heero's literal mindedness would work against him, and he couldn't wait to report his findings to Wufei. This event was entirely worth the price of admission.
"I went to the kitchen and prepared myself a cup of tea, and when I returned to the living room, she had the laptop on the sofa and was chewing the corner of it. When I checked, keys A, Z, and X were damaged."
"So did she consume or damage?" Trowa couldn't help the mirth that was creeping into his voice. It was growing difficult to keep his amusement at bay in light of the situation. In the ongoing battle of Heero versus puppy, the more flexible and adaptable mind would surely win.
"It's not funny, Barton," snapped Heero. "It's not even my laptop, it's on loan from Epyon." Heero groaned. "I have to go in tomorrow and tell Khushrenada that my girlfriend ate my laptop."
Trowa couldn't stifle his mirth for much longer, and his odd reaction to the 'emergency' call was beginning to garner odd looks from the vet techs on the other side of the room. "Not 'my dog ate my homework'?"
"Not funny, Trowa." But there was a growing touch of amusement in Heero's voice now that the immediate crisis was over.
Trowa gave in and laughed. "Listen, a good rule of thumb is that, if she's not with you or within sight of you, crate her. At least until you know her habits and routines better, okay? And I do have to run. Zechs is flagging me down. We really are going crazy here this morning." Trowa paused. "Give her three days. If, after three days, you still can't deal with her, I'll ask around and see if any of the interns will take her on as a special project, okay?"
"Three. And today doesn't count. You need to get though the rest of today, Saturday, Sunday, and all day Monday. If you still can't cope, we have an intern that comes in on an irregular schedule who'll be here on Monday night for the late shift that I may be able to convince."
"He's not mine yet, but yeah, him."
Heero considered both of his options, which at the moment numbered few and none. "Done."
"Feed her, wait thirty minutes, take her for a walk in your miniscule back yard. Do not, under any circumstances, let her off of her leash. I don't want her straining anything yet. Put her back in her crate with some water, no food, and one 'safe' toy--your laptop certainly does not qualify. Go home at lunch and check on her and take her for another short walk, no food until suppertime. Got it?"
Heero, resigned to his fate, delivered a flat, "Yes, Mom," into the receiver.
"And call me when you get home. Wufei left me a message and said something about stopping by your place later to meet your girlfriend if you were up to it. ...And I want to make sure I'm there to witness the moment."
Trowa disconnected the line before the spluttering could begin.
Heero hung up the now silent receiver and stared at the dog, crouched hunched over and unrepentant in her crate. "You're going to need a bath if we're going to make you presentable for company. Which means I need to go get you some shampoo." Which meant he would have to drive back over to the pet supply store on Dublin Avenue again. And deal with the weird guy in the shirt and sunglasses again. And the other guy. The one who liked his car. The one he wasn't so sure he was avoiding really.
"The things I do for you..."
Heero paused just in the entrance of the Safari, caught midway between the door chime and the service counter. He looked uniquely uncertain about his situation. "Um... Hello."
Howard glanced up from his magazine at the ring of the door chime, shrugged once, and picked up reading the article where he'd left off. 'A smile you could fall into for an entire afternoon and one hell of a sweet ride,' was back. Duo would want to handle this customer personally, no question about it. He turned back to his copy of Cichlid News and shrugged his shoulder in an offhand direction towards the back of the store. "With the fish. Follow the sound of the cursing until you find him."
The object of his quest was muttering quiet obscenities at a floor-level aquarium mounted under a bank of smaller and more brightly lit counterparts with active and varied types of tropical fish. Heero absently recognized a few of the common ones from his childhood as he walked past the tanks, but was presently much more interested in why Duo was voluntarily contorting himself under the shelf in such a fashion. Quest for knowledge set aside for a moment, he watched as Duo bent and twisted his torso under the overhang, while his right hand blindly reached out for an adjustable wrench a bare fingertip-length out of reach. Heero dropped down to crouch over his ankles and handed the wrench with a surgeon's precision into Duo's hand. "Looks painful, whatever you're doing under there."
Duo blinked at the solid feel of the tool in his hand and ducked his head out momentarily for a glance, and then a quick grin that widened as he took in his company. "Hello again. How're you and your new girlfriend getting along?" He carefully twisted out from under the cabinet, taking care not to accidentally tap the side of the aquarium with the wrench, and dusted the cobwebs from his gloves.
"Good, mostly. Okay, not really, but I have another problem that I wanted to ask you about."
Ten minutes later, Heero had his answer. "Alright, let me see if I have this straight."
Duo chuckled. "Straight, right. Go ahead."
Heero tossed him a puzzled glance and plowed ahead, anxious to test his understanding of the procedure. "So I take this," he held the bottle of 'for dark-coated dogs' shampoo, and even though it states that it's for black dogs, I can use it on her tan and white areas as well, right?"
"And I put it on her and scrub..."
"Hang on a minute." Duo tried to think about the best way to explain this. "Have you ever given a bath to a baby before?"
Heero did an honest-to-God double take before replying. "Uh, no."
"No kids? No nieces, nephews, nothing?" At Heero's blank look, he thought again about how to explain the process of bathing Little Girl in terms that Heero would understand, and suddenly it clicked. "Okay, I'm assuming that you'd never let an automated car wash touch your Mustang, right?"
At Heero's fierce, "No way in hell." Duo smiled. "Bathing your dog is sort of the same in theory. She's got a cast, right? So I'd cover that with a couple plastic bags first and secure the top of those with something fairly absorbent, just in case. Then start with getting everything wet with warm, not hot, water. Uh, like with your car, you wouldn't want to risk crazing the finish, right?"
Heero's smile widened at the comparison.
"Then soak the rims and wheels, in this case, her feet and legs and any bloodstains left over from her accident or the surgery, and then slowly work diluted soap in from top to bottom, letting it soak in for a while and then rinse very carefully top to bottom, twice, the second time with cool, but not cold water. Then press towels against her coat to soak up the excess water, and rub her dry with a second towel." He verified, "You said you're bathing her to get her presentable for company?"
Heero, preoccupied with re-reading the directions on the back of the shampoo bottle, responded automatically. "Yes, a friend is coming over to meet her tonight, so I want to clean her up so she can make a good impression for him."
If Duo's face fell a little at this news, the shift in expression was too subtle, and Heero was too distracted to take any notice of it. "Then, if you have a regular hair dryer, you can go ahead and dry her with that. That would also help keep her from getting chilled after her bath, which might be a good thing to be concerned about given her recent surgery."
Heero nodded in understanding and checked the price on the bottle as he started to walk towards the register at the front of the store. He stopped dead in his tracks and turned to Duo. "Where should I do this? Bathe her, I mean?"
Duo chuckled at Heero's look. "Most people just use the bathtub in their bathroom."
"I usually shower."
Duo's smile returned with a vengeance. "Well, yes, that should work."
Heero looked puzzled, as if hesitating to ask the next question, but duty bound to say the words. "So, how do I fit?"
Duo tilted his head, as if estimating Heero's dimensions. "Well, generally, you get naked, and you stand in the shower with her while you do this."
Heero blinked. And blinked again.
Duo's smile broke down into a light laugh at the shocked expression on Heero's face and slow reddening of his features, and he couldn't bring himself to stop chuckling. No matter that this was someone that he wished desperately to impress and not make look like a fool in front of him, fate had conspired against him and given Heero that expression to wear, and Duo... just... couldn't... help... himself. He did, however, in the interest of maintaining at least a minimum of a professional fašade, stop himself just short of offering some personal assistance in the endeavor.
"I suppose, given enough time, that I could have puzzled that one out on my own." Heero shook his head and had to laugh just a little at his reaction and Duo's response. "Gave you some amusement then, didn't I? First time doing this and all."
If anything, that seemed to sober Duo rather unexpectedly. "Yes, well. There is that. Here's to first times then." He nodded. "Good luck."
Leaving Heero standing there holding the bottle of shampoo and wondering just what it was that Duo had meant by that remark.
She looked like a drowned rat. Actually, she looked like something soaked and wretched that an oversized cat had dragged in, and for some unfathomable reason, she kept sinking slowly to the tile, almost as if she were melting with the warmth of the water combined with the inadvertent massage of his hands. The 'girlfriend' moniker came back to the front of his mind, and he had to chuckle. "Hope you're enjoying this. I can't say I'm exactly in practice." Despite Duo's advice, he hadn't been able to bring himself to bathe her in the nude, electing instead to wear the green tank-top and black shorts he usually reserved for washing his car. "Sorry Girl, no naked showering with you. Not even on our honeymoon."
He had to practically lift her bodily from his shower, then dry her with the towels he usually reserved for the gym as she lay stretched out on his bathroom floor. She shed rather heavily as he dried her, and he watched with resigned dismay as black and tan fur rose and danced through the air in the current of his hairdryer as he brushed through her coat. She clambered to her feet and did a three-legged shake, managing to distribute a fair amount of water over his walls and what little of him was dry in the process. She then began to use him as an impromptu towel of sorts, leaning and rubbing herself against him very much as a large cat might, reversing the process of which was wet and which was dry. He pushed her away and held her steady while he finished drying her, pleased with the results. "Trowa's right, you're prettier than I thought. I really need to take you to meet Duo."
It wasn't until Heero was standing under the shower himself and washing off the flecks of soap and stray hairs that had been redistributed from Little Girl's bath that he realized what he'd voiced aloud. He still dared not think too long about it though. Maybe it would leave if he ignored the thought long enough.
Who was he kidding.
Little Girl was happily exploring the confines of the combined living room and kitchen area by the time Wufei and Trowa arrived with the take-out Italian and the celebratory bottle of wine. She walked right over to Trowa and immediately sniffed at the edges of the bag with animated interest.
He looked down in approval at her newly washed and dried appearance and announced with authority. "It looks like she's Italian."
"If she were Italian, she would have checked out the wine first to make sure it was up to her standards." Wufei looked at her with an evaluating eye. "So that's your babe magnet, hmm? I don't know, Heero. I expected something a bit more... I don't know... German Shepherd-ish. Still... she cleaned up pretty nice. Once all her fur grows and she loses the cast--I assume the color choice was Trowa's--she'll look very Art-Deco."
Heero shook his head, accustomed by now to Wufei's back-handed compliments. "As with weapons, just as with other things, you should not make distinctions or preferences."
"You still running around quoting Musashi's Book of Five Rings?" The delivery was flat and level, but it was said with a wry smile. "You memorized that entire book freshman year. Still have it locked up in your gray matter, then?" Wufei reached over and tapped Heero's temple with the lightest of casual touches, but Little Girl's head swiveled and targeted his hand and followed it with a precise eye and a very soft rumble that was not quite a growl.
Trowa lifted an eyebrow in surprise and smirked. "Where did that come from?"
Wufei eyed the dog dismissively. "I don't think your new dog cares much for me."
Trowa couldn't stifle his snicker.
Wufei watched her carefully, as she was a rather large dog, despite her delicate and refined appearance. "All animals love me." He looked over at Trowa for confirmation. "Your cats never leave me alone when I'm over at your place."
Trowa shrugged. "True enough; they adore him." He added in a comic aside to Heero, "Of course, the truth is that they seem to love everyone."
Little Girl, above such discussions, settled for stalking over to the sofa and jumping up to claim a corner for her own, and turning back a raptorish head to maintain a watchful eye over the proceedings near the kitchen.
"I thought you weren't going to allow her on the couch."
Heero looked over and shrugged at Trowa. "She looks comfortable."
Trowa winked conspirationally at Wufei. "And so it starts."
She gained her sofa rights, but Trowa firmly vetoed feeding of tidbits from their supper, even when he saw Wufei trying to cajole Little Girl into accepting him by trying to sneak the ends of his garlic bread to her. By the end of the evening, she deigned to allow his hands to touch her, but it was obvious that she tolerated him at best, and clearly preferred the company of her master and her vet.
Wufei ducked his head back into the kitchen shortly after leaving it. "Gentlemen? Your immediate attention is required in the living room." When that didn't bring Heero and Trowa running, he entered the kitchen instead, and took a seat on the counter with a deep breath. "Smells much better in here," he added mildly.
Heero and Trowa looked at each other, then at the living room doorway, and then down at Little Girl, who was standing at Heero's side and watching his face with evident enjoyment. "You didn't."
"She did." Wufei helpfully volunteered.
Trowa rolled his eyes and set his plate of dessert aside for the moment. "Heero? Hand me the bottle of Nature's Miracle, would you?"
Heero dug through the bottles of cleaning solutions under his sink. "White bottle. Red cap. Right?"
"Right." Trowa walked into the living room and began with his matter-of-fact cleaning of the carpet while Wufei watched suspiciously from his safe vantage point in the doorway.
"Better you than me," quipped Wufei. "Why couldn't you at least find a dog that was already housebroken?"
Trowa continued with his methodical scrubbing. "She probably is. She's old enough to have at least some training, but I'm willing to bet that the post-surgical anti-inflammatory meds we have her on have her system all out of kilter."
Wufei made a noise of understanding before walking the wineglasses back to the kitchen. "I'll clean up in here while you deal with... that, then I'm off." He nodded, but volunteered no additional information.
Heero handed over the bottle of cleaner to Trowa. "I had no idea what this stuff was." He smiled, and the expression was so unexpected, especially given the circumstances, that Trowa paused, and then had to call him on it. "Okay, give. What is it?"
"Just..." He settled back on his heels over the damp patch of carpet. "When I was shopping for this stuff, and Duo added this to the cart, I said something like, I thought that nature's miracle had something to do with the conception of life." Heero paused, trying to get the memory right, but being careful to not raise his voice loud enough for Wufei to hear. "And Duo replied, well, not always. And, it's just that I noticed that he was blushing at the time, and I didn't know why."
Trowa thought about Heero's hesitance in asking, his care in lowering his voice and waiting for Wufei to leave the room. Slowly, with a great deal of reservation, he volunteered, "The reason that Duo probably blushed, is because Duo is gay, and is probably attracted to you, and didn't know how to react to your comment." Trowa doused the stain and stood up. "That's done."
Trowa walked the dirty towels back to the kitchen and gave Heero a moment of privacy to come to grips with the fact that he'd most likely been subtly hit on by a gay man.
Heero studied the wet spot on his carpet, levered himself to his feet and grunted unhappily at Little Girl. ...And filed that fact away for later reference.
Trowa could tell that Heero was uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was heading. He leaned against the counter, reached for his wine glass, poured a refill for Heero, and searched for a safe topic. "So, how did you come up with the name 'Little Girl' anyway?"
Heero had to think back on that for a moment. "Well, it was on her paperwork, and I wasn't sure if you had named her that or not, and I didn't want to say anything about changing it if you had." He looked over at her on the sofa, and Little Girl, seeing that she had his attention, ambled over with her three-legged stride and leaned against his legs, begging for more petting.
Trowa tilted his head to the side and offered a slight smirk with his explanation. "That's what the documentation reads on all unnamed strays that come into the clinic. It's a little more personal than Dog A, Dog B, or Cat C, D, E, and they train the staff there to see animals as little girl or little boy, because customers and the general clientele tend to appreciate the fact that the staff is treating their pets more like family members then like animals off of the street. So, Merquise and Merquise train their staff to say, 'Get Little Girl Owens out of Observation Room B' instead of 'grab that skinny black cat from the back room'. There's a code to it: 'big' for adult dogs, 'little' for young ones, then 'cat' and 'kitty,' for the felines, though, frankly, as far as stray animals go, most people don't stop to pick up an injured cat, that's just a fact of life."
Heero looked momentarily crushed. "So that's all there is to it, hmm?"
"Mostly." Trowa watched as Little Girl leaned against Heero's legs, at the way he casually reached down a hand to stroke her ears, the way they both craved and reached out to each other for physical contact.
"It also, generally speaking, helps the staff maintain some separation from the patients. That way, when the animals don't make it or the strays get turned over to the adoption clinic and destroyed, it doesn't get quite so personal. Well... at least that's what it's supposed to do." Trowa looked at him. "After all of the years we've been friends. Did you really think I'd call your first dog ever something that inanely feminine?"
Heero laughed out loud. "This from the same man who named his cats Dain Bramage and Upchuck?"
"Well, he has and she does, rather frequently, I might add. What can I say? My talent for creative naming knows no limits."
"I did wonder about the name though, yeah."
"Are you going to change it, now that you know?" Trowa cradled his glass of wine and wandered back into the living room, raising an eyebrow at Heero before crooking a finger at Little Girl and waving both of them towards the comfort of the sofa.
"Sure. Dogs seem to respond more to the tone of voice anyway. Just add whatever you want her new name to be on to the beginning or end of 'Little Girl' for a few days, like Little Girl Laptop or something, and then drop the 'Little Girl' part. She's bright," he said, stroking her shoulder. "She'll pick it up quickly."
"I'd better wait a while to see if I really have a dog then, shouldn't I," Heero added soberly.
"There is that, yes. Though no one has responded to our listing on Petfinder.com or the weekly newspaper postings yet. Well, no one having lost a dog. I'm sure someone would be willing to adopt her eventually. She's a pretty girl, aren't you, terror?" She looked up at him mildly and continued to lean into his stroking fingers.
Trowa's look turned serious, and he settled cross-legged on the floor and leaned his back against the couch. Little Girl, rightly anticipating a prolonged audience, dropped her head and shoulders into his lap and thumped her tail in weak pleasure against Heero's shins when Trowa obliged her by rubbing his thumbs along the depressions at the base of her ears.
Trowa continued to massage his patient, avoiding Heero's eyes. "You know, you've never asked me why."
Heero looked over at his best friend, puzzled at the sudden switch in topics. "Why what?"
"When we were in college together, after high school, and I told you that I was gay. You never asked me why. You just said. 'Okay.' And then everything sort of continued on as normal. Which wasn't normal, because it shouldn't have happened that way." Trowa's hands stopped, and Little Girl's head lifted and shifted until they resumed their motion again, and with them his words. "I guess I expected you to either hate me or have all sorts of questions. Acceptance wasn't part of the plan. And then I wondered if you were gay, but didn't want to ask you about it. Because... because everything changes once you tell people what you are... what you prefer. But it didn't with you. And that made me wonder." Trowa shrugged. "But then you went on to date women, and well... It's just." He looked up.
"Listen, if it helps, it's never been a romantic thing for me, but we've always been close. And that's meant more to me than you can imagine. I just wanted you to know that, okay? And... Well..." Trowa swallowed hard and continued. "Something happened to me that I thought maybe you should know about."
Heero was getting an odd sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. One he mistrusted and associated with very bad news indeed, death of friends and the misery of bad news that could not be reversed, and he had the sudden urge to reach out and use his hand to block the words from Trowa's mouth.
The next sentence confirmed his doubts. "I spent some time with Duo a few weeks ago..."
Heero steeled himself for what he was pretty sure he knew was coming. The interest. The mutual hobbies and activities. The sense of humor. The way they just seemed to be a natural fit for each other. But he wasn't jealous? Or was he? He didn't have any right to be possessive over Duo, right? He wasn't interested in a relationship of any kind with Duo, right? Because he wasn't gay, right? Or even bi, right?
Heero held up his hand in a bid for a moment of silence in which to collect his thoughts--a silence that seemed to hold in the air between them and stretch. "Trowa? The other day, when you said that you thought that I might be gay. Why did you say that?"
Trowa chuckled. "While I was speaking with Duo, your name came up. Well, sort of. I mentioned you while we were out having coffee, and Duo corrected me. He said something to the effect of 'you just said your friend, you didn't limit your friendship by saying your boyfriend, your college friend, or your coworker--you said your friend'." Trowa smiled and tilted his head up with a pleased and soft expression. "And do you know Duo stopped me? He said 'now stop, wait a minute, I want you to appreciate how rare it is have a friend who is just a good friend and isn't qualified in any other way. Not your gay friend, your black friend, or your second cousin. You were kids together, you grew up together, and that didn't change you; you are as you started out, just friends. That says a lot about the strength and bond of your friendship. It's pure. It's beautiful, and you should respect that'."
Trowa touched Heero lightly with his hand. "I wanted to thank you for that. Didn't think to say anything until he pointed it out to me, you know?"
Heero looked at him and tried a smile. "So, about this gay thing?"
"What about it?"
"Umm..." Heero started to look uncomfortable.
Trowa offered a soft laugh and ruffled Little Girl's coat. "Well... maybe you might just have a few gay tendencies."
Heero considered that. "I'm not real comfortable with the 'gay' label yet, can we try 'tentatively bi' for a while until we see how this goes?"
Trowa chuckled and offered, "We can work with that for a while. Sometimes it works that way. Sometimes it seems like you're perfectly straight, and you think you're perfectly straight, and you go through life that way and then this one guy comes along and for whatever reason you have a strong attraction to him... and maybe, just maybe, this is the guy for you."
Heero considered that possibility while he turned the glass of wine in his hand. "Yeah, I think it might just be working that way for me this time." He smiled down at his new dog. "Weird, huh?"
"Stranger things have happened."
"Yeah, Trowa? Name one."
Trowa stared into middle distance for only a few seconds before volunteering: "Wufei took Relena out on a date last night and they didn't kill each other."
Heero reached over and chimed his glass against Trowa's. "You win."